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Workplace wellness inspiration and looking after spa therapists

Behind the spa scenes

Spas have so many incredible facilities - the thermal suites, the natural pools, the impressive views and the luxe spaces in which to relax. However, a spa experience would not be complete without spa therapists and the care, skill and dedication with which they support our wellbeing. So while they're busy taking care of us, who's looking after them? 

Spa Sisters (@spasisterspodcast), Julie Wren and Carly Chamberlain are two women on a mission to support therapists at work, and provide a framework and a conversation to improve work/life balance, stress management and workplace wellness across the board. 

Together they have 35 years of experience working in the spa and wellness industry, starting out as spa and complementary therapists, developing into brand trainers and mentors, and now writing and consulting with some of the most talented and influential leaders in the spa industry. Today, Julie and Carly are at the forefront of driving individual self-development and systemic transformation within the world of wellness.

We spoke to them to find out how they're supporting therapists and what workplace wellness and self-care ideas we can all take from their experience.

Tell us a little about your background in the spa industry.

Carly:  I actually started in a creative background - writing, drama and media. After completing my degree and working in media production, I realised that it was extremely challenging to find my authentic voice in the industry. I had a passion for helping others, so I took a U-turn and went to Australia where I studied integrated face and body work. Something clicked with that - this was definitely for me - it was something I could live and breathe. I went on to work there for a while and when I came back to the UK I freelanced. I worked in both clinical and holistic environments, blending my sports and remedial knowledge with energy work and healing. After that I became a trainer, which I love because it's all about meeting teams across the world, sharing the experience and helping people express themselves. I have freelanced as a trainer for the past five years and wrote my book, Listening through my Hands, in 2020, which is about finding your voice and understanding your potential without all the internal conflicts getting in the way.

Julie: I live in Belgium now as I came here to work for the European Commission some years ago. However, in 1998 I discovered that you can work yourself into the ground, and at that point I retrained as a holistic therapist. Over the years I have added to my specialist qualifications. I started as an energy worker and now I am an educator too. I really found my calling in education and creating experiential experiences.  My passion is growing the therapist and making sure they get the chance to shine irrespective of their educational background. In some countries we have therapists doing incredible jobs but they don't have much formal education, and I want to make sure they are empowered in their work.  

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How do you work together?

Carly: Spa Sisters is a special collaboration. It's rare that trainers come together outside of the brands they represent. They often see one another in passing but don't work together. The training environment is very powerful and we found a gap where we felt that if we combined our skills, we could offer something very inspirational to spa teams and wider sectors.

Julie: We see ourselves as bridges between therapists and their managers/business owners. Therapists will tell us things they won't tell their spa manager, and meanwhile the spa manager has their own job and pressures that go with that, so they aren't always aware of the concerns and worries of their teams. This is a cocktail for burnout and other issues - which we are seeing at the moment with the spa industry skills shortage.

We asked ourselves, how do we create a safe space to help people communicate? We shared our experiences working with different brands and spas of different sizes, and discovered a common denominator that therapists need a voice. Sometimes they might not be able to say something to their managers, but we can - we can initiate the difficult conversations and bring up topics that are affecting their wellbeing at work.

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What challenges are therapists facing? 

Julie: It's often the turnaround time between clients and the intensity of the working day or the lack of quality breaks. Physically, working as a therapist is very demanding and if individuals are not resourcing themselves appropriately, how can they give a five-star treatment that's the same at the start of the day and at the end of the day. From my own experiences I know that what we're eating, how we rest - it all has an impact, but often therapists are standing up and grabbing lunch for example wherever they can. It's not unique to spas, but in any workplace it's not conducive to a healthy team. 

Carly: One thing that stands out to me is the discrepancy between being a representative of health and wellness and behind the scenes being exhausted and stressed out. Lots of spas have woken up to that problem and have addressed it, and many therapists take a lot of personal responsibility for their wellbeing, which is brilliant. However, there are more things that can be done, from programmes to boost staff morale to staff canteens that provide healthy nutrition. I believe that the spa and wellness industry is evolving into a place of need for everyone, rather than purely being about luxury. The industry has the tools to support and educate people for better self-care, so what we're talking about goes beyond therapists and is something all businesses can benefit from.

What can you see happening when team members are not supported?

Carly: Therapists come into the spa industry wanting to care for people and often end up feeling undervalued, which ultimately means they leave the profession. That's why we're passionate about supporting them - they have valuable skill sets and are integral to the nation's wellbeing, and we want to help them stay in the industry. We are doing that through our podcast and I AM WELLness™ programme for teams and individuals.

What's the result of getting that wellness balance at work right?

Julie: We always find that after our workshops team members are very appreciative. It's nice to feel that someone is thinking about you and has your best interests at heart. Our programme is designed to offer solutions that individuals can do on their own, as well as providing ways to support teams at work. It's accessible and can be weaved into your daily rituals, but what people love is being in that group environment and feeling better. We were at a festival exploring holistic health recently and had people from all backgrounds join the workshop. It was wonderful to see people coming to this realisation that there are really simple techniques that help you to be still, connect, and feel great. For us it's about educating and allowing people to have a safe space, where they can rest and have a sense of peace.

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Does the idea resonate beyond the spa industry?

Carly: It was an epiphany moment for me, realising that in the past people who work in the spa industry are not always seen as the most successful because perhaps they're not on a huge salary or have the highest qualification. Now, I think the measure of success is changing - therapists have so much knowledge about wellbeing and I think that's really being respected a lot more. I think the measure of success is shifting from the amount you earn to the level of health and happiness you have. However, there has to be a fair balance. Therapists have known that for years and collectively we need their knowledge to support overall, sustainable wellbeing in all working environments.

Julie: I use a method called Leonardo 3,4,5. It's a layered approach that's not just about the individual - it looks at your organisation to see what drives work, making sure all entrepreneurial areas are covered in the team, and also looking at that from a strategic standpoint. There are opportunities there in all industries, to help people find their calling and maximise their skills. Within the spa industry in particular, there's a space to build on informal education internally and as a result support people in making the most of their careers. Some amazing spa directors are leading lights in that capacity, making the welfare of the therapist is a priority - that's what we need to see more of.

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